Freshman U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger’s defeat of 10-term Illinois incumbent Don Manzullo, with help from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, prompted an anti-tax group to warn Republican leaders not to take sides in other intra-party races.
The Club for Growth, which supports fiscally conservative Republican candidates, said it would support Arizona Representative David Schweikert in a Republican primary fight if House leaders back his fellow Republican, Ben Quayle.
Hours after Kinzinger, 34, a former military combat pilot, was declared the winner over Manzullo in the March 20 Illinois Republican primary, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola urged House leaders to stay neutral in the Arizona race between the two freshman Republicans. Both incumbent-versus-incumbent races were prompted by legislative redistricting.
The Club for Growth was “alarmed” to see Cantor “aggressively take sides in favor” of Kinzinger because “Manzullo clearly had a better record of voting for limited government,” Chocola said in a letter to Cantor, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.
The redrawn Illinois 16th congressional district stretches from the Illinois-Wisconsin line north and west of Chicago south and east to the Indiana line.
Cantor had taken the unusual step of making an endorsement during a Republican primary. YG Action Fund, a super-PAC run by ex-Cantor aides, spent $52,000 to produce and place radio ads to help Kinzinger. That’s the only independent expenditure the super-PAC has reported, according to its Federal Election Commission filings.
‘Get His Name Out’
Those radio ads “definitely helped get his name out there in the final days,” said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
In his letter, Chocola said if Republican leaders try to defeat Schweikert, the “Club for Growth PAC will vigorously come to his defense.”
The letter noted that Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC had given $10,000 to Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, before legislative redistricting pitted him against Schweikert. Chocola urged Boehner “in the name of neutrality” to give $10,000 to Schweikert’s campaign as well.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner’s political action committee, didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Ray Allen Jr., a spokesman for Cantor’s re-election campaign in Virginia, said the majority leader “has not endorsed in the Arizona race” and “has appeared at events for both gentlemen.”
Risks for Party Leaders
Cantor’s endorsement of Kinzinger and the Club for Growth’s reaction shows the risk of leaders getting involved in intra-party disputes, said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont Mckenna College in Claremont, California.
“The risks exceed the benefits of getting involved,” he said. “It’s very seldom going to end well.”
Schweikert, who was briefly a member of the House leadership whip organization, called the Club for Growth’s letter “heartwarming” because “it demonstrates that some of the conservative community has made it clear they are going to step up and defend us.”
The 50-year-old lawmaker said the Aug. 28 primary against Quayle “seems to becoming a proxy” for “establishment versus reform.”
Because “I am not the son of a former vice president,” Schweikert said “we fully expect” that “outside groups because of that relationship step into our race.”
In Illinois, Manzullo and Kinzinger ran against each other because of redistricting after the state lost a House seat after the 2010 U.S. Census.
Manzullo, 67, was targeted by the independent Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super-PAC that has spent more than $1 million to challenge incumbents, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington-based group that monitors campaign finance.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability spent $227,731 on direct-mail ads, postcard mailings and other independent campaign efforts seeking to defeat Manzullo.
Kinzinger’s 56 percent victory to Manzullo’s 44 percent is tantamount to election because no Democrat filed to run in the congressional district.
‘Even Worse Record’
Kinzinger, a former Air National Guard pilot who served five tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, was elected to Congress in 2010 with support from the Tea Party movement.
Chocola’s letter said Kinzinger had an “even worse record” on issues important to the Club for Growth than Manzullo.
In his campaign ads, Kinzinger characterized Manzullo as being part of the “old majority” of House Republicans that “lost its way on spending” by supporting a 60 percent increase in federal expenditures during the two terms of President George W. Bush.
Manzullo cast himself as the true “conservative choice,” saying in one ad that Kinzinger “isn’t much different than the Democrat he replaced.”
Manzullo’s defeat by Kinzinger may be a warning to Representative John Mica, a 10-term incumbent who is pitted in a Florida primary against a freshman Republican, Pitney said.
“In a year like this, the old bulls need to watch their backs” Pitney said, because saying “‘I’ve served in Washington a long time’ doesn’t necessary earn a lot of points with the electorate.”
Mica, who is running against freshman Republican Sandy Adams, said Manzullo’s defeat is isn’t unsettling. Mica says he takes comfort that, this year, Manzullo had support from Tea Party-allied groups.
“Mr Manzullo was a sweetheart for the Tea Party, so was my potential opponent, so I got a little grin on my face today,” he said.